“A Desperate Quest
for the Normal”

The one thing the past three years has demonstrated is that the unexpected keeps happening—and usually not in a good way: war, pandemic, bank shocks, inflation, political turmoil, and more. No one is immune. What’s more, the speed of change has accelerated to the point that neither companies nor customers have adequate time to respond, with the most obvious recent example being the $42 billion outflow of cash at Silicon Valley Bank in a single day. Said Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company and founder of ConantLeadership, “With all this change, we are seeing anxiety at an all-time high for consumers.”

What the customer craves now is something elusive: predictability. “The basic thing we are seeing is a desperate quest for the normal,” said Radha Subramanyam, president and chief research and analytics officer at CBS. 

“We all understand—whether you’re a consumer or a B2B customer—that normal may mean something different than it did a few years ago, but that’s not what people are thinking about. … What I’m really sensing is a quest for predictability, a little bit of control over their lives … and also a desire for rhythm.”

At CBS, that translates to an emphasis on seasonality in programming—a “proper fall season,” in Subramanyam’s words. It’s counterintuitive in the age of binge-watching, but CBS has reported both an increase in “appointment” watching and in planned live events, such as sports and the Grammys. “Watching TV in a cyclical sense brings a sense of normalcy,” she said. “So does going to the mall. So does going to the movies. … Paramount brought back audiences with Top Gun.”

“What I’m seeing is this hybridity: We keep the best of what we learned during the pandemic, but we also really liked parts of our lives before,” said Subramanyam. “And so, we are regaining that rhythm and that normalcy where it makes sense and evolving our lives where it doesn’t.”

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